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20/20 vision

PES’ Tim Smith explains the Vision 20/20 initiative

Educators’ Vision for Illinois Public Education
Educators’ Vision for Illinois Public Education

PRINCETON — Many are becoming more aware of the new public education initiative, Vision 20/20, which addresses current issues and inefficiencies many school districts around the state are facing today.

Princeton Elementary School District Superintendent Tim Smith gave a presentation at the Prouty Building on Thursday, April 2, about what the initiative is pushing for and the priorities that come along with it.

While supporters of Vision 20/20 reject the premise that education in Illinois has failed, they recognize its impact has not been equitably delivered to all student populations, and there are opportunities for continuous improvement.

Vision 20/20 is broken down into four pillars — each pinpointing priorities addressing the needed improvement for better public education. The pillars include:

Highly-effective educators

Priorities stated under this pillar include: Recruit and retain high-impact educators and provide relevant professional development.

Smith said Illinois, right now, is very restrictive in who can teach in the classroom.

“The Teacher of the Year in Indiana very likely would not be able to teach in Illinois because of the restrictive licensure that’s in place,” he said.

The restrictions stem back to when No Child Left Behind was implemented and changed the licensure requirements for teachers. This has made it difficult in finding teachers who have the right licensure or all requirements needed to teach in the classroom.

“Smaller school district teachers have to be trained in all areas they teach, so they meet highly-qualified status, or they have to hire more people to do the job,” Smith said.

Also, Smith said the professional development required for teachers these days is so much that many schools are having a hard time keeping up with what’s required.

“We’re saying we need to break these walls down,” he said. “We need to decide what’s really pertinent and what’s really necessary.”

21st Century learning

One of the priorities in this pillar is to develop the whole child. Smith explained there is such an emphasis put on state testing today, which only tests in the English and math subjects.

Because of this emphasis, teachers put a lot of focus on those subject areas, and there is not enough emphasis on other subjects such as science, social sciences and the arts.

“We believe we are not doing a good enough job educating the whole child because we’re so panicked about state tests and the accountability it comes with it,” he said.

Another priority is to preserve instructional time.

“Right now, kids are pulled out of class to do state testings as much as they do,” Smith said. “We’re too consumed with it that we are taking away from valuable instructional time.”

Another priority is to link students to colleges and careers.

“We want to be a realist. We know there are some students who are not going to go to college and shouldn’t be pushed to college,” Smith said.

He said schools need to do a better job meeting the need of students who are not going to college right out of high school.

“We need to say, ‘it’s OK if you want to go to vocational school, or wait to go to college and figure out what you want to do first,’” he said.

Another priority in this pillar is to expand equity in technology access. While many instruction and testing is now going online, Smith said it needs to be reassured that small school districts have the Internet support needed to carry out online instruction. Right now, some schools are still using dial-up Internet, which is highly inefficient with all students needing to connect to the Internet at the same time during a class period.

Shared accountability

The first priority under this pillar is to expand educators’ roles and responsibility in state governance.

“One of the biggest problems we face is there are no practitioners that serve on Illinois State Board of Education,” Smith said.

He pointed out these seats, along with the state superintendent of schools, are appointed by the governor.

Smith said the problem with this is most of these appointed people are not in the classroom or never have been.

He explained there needs to be people in these seats who understand the impact of the mandates and laws being passed.

Another priority under this pillar refers to restructuring mandates.

Many mandates coming from Springfield today are expensive and are unfunded, he said.

Equitable and adequate funding

The first priority under this pillar includes funding education based on local need.

“We need to have an independent advisory board and evaluate what the priorities are and what it’s going to cost to get there,” he said. “Locally we need to make the decisions.”

The next priority is to stabilize state funding for education.

One problem many schools are facing today is not having an idea what kind of funding will be coming to them in the next year. Right now, the state is only paying 89 percent of what it owes to schools. Not knowing what’s coming from the state each year makes it difficult to make a steady and accurate budget for the next school year.

“It’s difficult to know what we going to have available for the next year,” Smith said.

The final priory is to enhance district flexibility to increase financial efficiency. This would help school districts better forecast their budget for the next year. Knowing what the school will get from the state will allow districts to better plan their budgets and make better decisions for the district.

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